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Sunday, October 22, 2006

Continuing on the adoption thread 

While I've been talking about Steve Jobs' adoption, there's this other itty bitty adoption story that has made the headlines. I haven't said anything about it because I haven't really been following it. But that didn't stop me this morning.

While at church, I was talking to someone who is familiar with the Romanian adoption process (but not, as it turns out, with the Madonna Malawi story). I told her that I wasn't really familiar with the Madonna Malawi story either, other than knowing that the child's natural father is still living, and that he had consented to the adoption.

My friend explained to me that there are actually two kinds of orphanage placements. The first, with which I was familiar, is when no one claims parental rights for the child in the orphanage. This is true either in cases in which the parents are not known, or when the parents have legally signed away all rights to the child.

The second type of orphanage placement is when parents place the child in the orphanage, but do not sign away parental rights. In this case, the orphanage takes care of the child (presumably because the parents are unable to do so, because of poverty or other reasons), but the child is not a candidate to be adopted by other parents.

My friend guessed (again, neither of us knew the situation) that the child adopted by Madonna fell into the first category, in which the parent had signed away rights to the child, allowing Madonna to legally adopt the child (I'm dodging the question about foreigners adopting Malawi children here, which is a different issue).

Several hours after this conversation, I ran across this new bit of news:

A Malawian man who gave up his 13-month-old son to be adopted by Madonna said Sunday he had not realized he was signing away custody "for good."...

"Our understanding was that they would educate and take care of our son just as they were doing at the orphanage," the 32-year-old illiterate peasant farmer told The Associated Press....

Until now, [Yohane] Banda has said his decision was in the best interests of his motherless son and criticized local charities who have started legal proceedings to challenge the adoption.

Banda said his understanding was that "when David grows up he will return back home to his village." He said the director of Child Welfare Services, Penston Kilembe, and the retired pastor who heads the orphanage where David spent most of his life never told him by "adoption" it meant David will cease to be his son.

"If we were told that she wants to take the baby as her own we could not have consented, because I see no reason why I should give away my son," he said.

Banda's wife died shortly after childbirth...and he left his son with the orphanage....

Banda said he was illiterate and so had no idea of the significance of the adoption papers he signed....

"Mr. Kilembe and the pastor explained to me that Madonna would take care of my son; I am just realizing now the meaning of adoption," he said, claiming that he has no copies of documents pertaining to the adoption. "All the documents are with Mr. Kilembe," he said.

Kilembe refused to comment on Sunday....

Banda's claims were corroborated by his cousin, Wiseman Zimba, and mother, Asineti Mwale.

"Our understanding as family is that David is still part and parcel of our clan," Zimba said. "After the good woman nurtures and educates him, he will return back."...

However, the family insisted that it did not want David to return to the orphanage.

"We are still thankful Madonna has rescued him from poverty and disease; we pray for the good Lord to keep blessing her for her benevolence," Banda said.

But this isn't just an issue in Malawi. The Australian government issued a report on the forcible removal of indigenous children. Here are some brief excerpts:

A common practice was simply to remove the child forcibly, often in the absence of the parent but sometimes even by taking the child from the mother's arms. The law firm Phillips Fox advised the Inquiry that `[o]ne of our clients had instructed us that he was taken from his parents while his mother was in hospital having her fourth child. Another client was one of six children taken from their home by the police while their mother was in hospital having her seventh child' (Phillips Fox Melbourne submission 20 page 5, both clients named).

In a letter to the WA Commissioner of Native Affairs in November 1943, Inspector Bisley of Port Hedland wrote, `I recommend that this child be removed when she is old enough as she will be probably handed over to some aged blackfellow at an early age'....

"I remember another friend of mine in St Ives. She wanted to adopt a little Aboriginal baby. And she was telling me when she got this little one that she went out to the mission and said she wanted a little baby boy. The mission manager said, `Mrs J has a couple of boys [already], we'll take her third one'. So they adopted that child. If Mrs J would have objected, she said the welfare officer says, `Well, if you don't give us that child, we'll take the other two'."...

The `Harold Blair Holiday Schemes', which was basically run by Mr Killoran in Brisbane through the Queensland Aboriginal Affairs Department, would organise holiday homes over the Christmas holidays in Melbourne [for Queensland children]. After three weeks ... the couple would say, `I'd love to keep little Mary for a little longer'. `Sure you can keep Mary a little longer.' No reference to the parents. Within a few months the next question, `Could I adopt Mary?'. `Yeah, you can adopt Mary.' This was not an AWB [Aborigines Welfare Board] Victorian adoption. It was done through the Queensland Native Affairs Department, direct adoption kind of by mail order and by phone call....

And for those who think that placing a poor kid in a rich family will give them opportunities, the Australian data suggests otherwise:

A three-year longitudinal study undertaken in Melbourne during the mid-1980s revealed the numerous differences between respondents removed in childhood (33%) and those who were raised by their families or in their communities (67%). Those removed were,

* less likely to have undertaken a post secondary education;

* much less likely to have stable living conditions and more likely to be geographically mobile;

* three times more likely to say they had no-one to call on in a crisis;

* less likely to be in a stable, confiding relationship with a partner;

* twice as likely to report having been arrested by police and having been convicted of an offence;

* three times as likely to report having been in gaol;

* less likely to have a strong sense of their Aboriginal cultural identity, more likely to have discovered their Aboriginality later in life and less likely to know about their Aboriginal cultural traditions;

* twice as likely to report current use of illicit substances; and

* much more likely to report intravenous use of illicit substances (Dr Jane McKendrick, Victorian Aboriginal Mental Health Network, submission 310 page 22).

From the Ontario Empoblog (Latest OVVA news here)

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